Thursday, December 22, 2005
Cast adrift on a sea of school districts, Pacific Grove’s Monterey Bay Charter School is looking for a sponsor.
The Monterey Bay Charter School (MBCS) officials are currently petitioning Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) to charter their school. The MPUSD Trustees are slated to decide whether to sponsor the school at the Jan. 9 meeting.
Because of a new law requiring that the charter school be located in the same district as the chartering agency, MBCS’s relationship with its current chartering agency, San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District (SLVUSD), in north Santa Cruz County, will soon end.
MBCS is a kindergarten-through-12th-grade Waldorf school—the only one in Monterey County. There are about 135 Waldorf schools in the US, based on the education ideas of Rudolph Steiner, an early-20th-century Austrian philosopher. Waldorf education is based on the idea that schools have to nurture a child physically, emotionally and mentally.
At MBCS, the arts are integrated into the entire curriculum, including math and science. Students also take foreign language classes, beginning in first grade.
But unless the MPUSD board votes to charter the Monterey Bay Charter School, this public, tuition-free school may have to close its doors for good.
In 1998, the Monterey Bay Charter School first opened its doors at a small church in Marina. At the time, 78 students attended MBCS.
Three years later, the school moved to its current location on David Avenue in Pacific Grove. Today, the school enrolls over 200 students, not including 30 students in its home school program.
Although there are no other Waldorf-based charter schools currently in the district, the sponsorship would not be without precedent. MPUSD currently sponsors three other charter schools: Central Coast High School, Cypress Grove High School, and the International School of Monterey.
Representatives from MBCS formally presented their charter petition to the school board on Nov. 21 and then returned on Dec. 5 for a public hearing.
According to MBCS Director David R. Hill, MPUSD is the most likely source of sponsorship. All charter school funding must come from average daily attendance (ADA) revenue from the state. Unlike MPUSD, however, Carmel and Pacific Grove Unified School Districts are “basic aid” or “revenue limit” districts.
“Most districts get funding from the state by ADA,” Hill explains. “A few districts in the state, like Carmel and Pacific Grove, have high property values and few children. So the state requires them to rely on funding from their property taxes.”
Although MPUSD Trustee Regena Lauterbach says she is prohibited from discussing the board’s opinions on the subject because of the Brown Act, she did confirm that she had visited MBCS.
“Several of us have visited the school and I personally am very impressed with the facilities,” Lauterbach says. “We’ll see if the petition they have meets the requirements they need to meet.”
According to Lauterbach, the primary requirement for approval is fiscal responsibility—a condition that Hill says MBCS meets with flying colors.
Over the seven years it was sponsored by San Lorenzo, Hill’s school had a balanced budget each year.
“This in spite of the fact that we pay $160,000 a year in rent to our landlord, PGUSD, plus utilities,” Hill says. “And 14 percent of our state funding goes to rent.”
Hill says the charter school also pays high service fees to the San Lorenzo school district: $210,000 a year.
“That’s close to 18 percent of our state funding,” he says. “Yet despite these financial burdens we have been able to operate with a balanced budget every year.”
If MPUSD decides not to sponsor the charter school, Hill says school officials will appeal the board’s decision to the Monterey County Office of Education.